Yesterday, privacy advocates celebrated a small victory when Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson canceled plans to move forward with a federal program that would track license plates across the country.
However, this decision prompts the question: What would it be like if the government on the national and local levels knew where you were at any moment?
First of all, they probably already do. Documents revealed by former-NSA analyst and whistleblower Edward Snowden uncovered programs that allow the National Security Agency to sweep up millions of Americans’ cell phone metadata, including the GPS location of all calls made.
The ability to track license plates, which some local police departments already have the capability of doing, would only add to the web of surveillance.
A 2012 Supreme Court case, US v Jones, decided that the warrantless GPS tracking of a car was legal because the car was, at all times, driving and parks on public roads. In order to find out just how intrusive these programs are, watch the video above.
The video, produced by the ACLU, shows just how much personal and private information can be inferred about a person by looking at their movements. What can this be used for?
Well, for one example, there’s the story of the Washington, D.C., police lieutenant who, in 1997, had his friend sit outside of a gay bar while he looked up the identities of patrons by using their license plate numbers. The two then extorted the patrons for money in exchange for not telling their families. With modern technology, the stakeout would be unnecessary.
Police could potentially use information of completely legal activities, like late-night visits to a mistress’ house or visits to a therapist’s office, to extort, blackmail or discredit people, as U.S. law enforcement has a history of doing.
Even if you think the possibility for abuse in unlikely, never forget the possessors of this information are only human. After all, have you already forgotten the documents released last year about NSA employees using their tools to spy on their exes?